Kiaran kept busy and to herself the following days. As the caravan came to another stop, she soon found herself scrubbing sheets in the creek. Ryker was with Britta, which left Kiaran mostly alone, pose for the few who were cleaning their hands and feet in the cold water.
She reached a hand toward the water, her breath caught as she saw the scarless skin. Many times she saw her hands, her heart would skip and her breathing would seize as she’d ready to attack whoever was reaching from behind. However, she’d soon see that it was only her new skin and she’d calm herself once more.
The area was quiet, not many birds chirping, rather she'd catch the caw of a crow. Kiaran wrung out the sheet, the cold water running down her numb hands and dripping from her elbows back into the creek. Her ears perked as Brinden neared. She glanced to him as he carried an unusually large basin.
He reached her side and crouched on one knee. Placing the basin on its side, he allowed it to slowly fill up with water. The setting sun bounced off the beads of water that gathered on Kiaran’s arms. For a long while they remained silent.
Finally, Brinden spoke first, saying, “You keep to yourself, Anika.”
She nodded, moving to the next sheet. “I find it easiest to keep to my own.”
“Understandable,” he replied. Another minute passed by. “I am to break people into groups as to find jobs more easily once we reach VinCar,” he began, his voice low and relaxed. “At what worth is your time? I am to ask each person here so I know who might have higher pay than others.”
She paused her work and watched him as he hoisted the impossibly heavy drum of water. He sat it down on the bay and faced her, wiping his brow with his forearm.
“Well, I am not about to shorten my self-worth for next to nothing,” she grunted. He retained an unreadable expression. “I realize I am nothing worth noting to the nobles, however, I’ll not lose my pride and self-respect for an unseemly pay. If they try to shorten me...they’ll soon find that they won’t.”
He remained quiet, then a small hint of a smile touched his lips. Nodding, he pulled the basin up with ease and said, “That is good.” Her brows lowered as he walked away.
Later that evening, Kiaran sat beneath a tree to enjoy the cold wind. The sky was smothered in gray clouds, her heart dropping slightly.
Ryker walked out in the field ahead of her, admiring the plants. He listed off the names of the vegetation to Britta who appeared interested.
Heavy foot steps made their way toward her and she looked up to see Brinden once more. He waved at his daughter and she waved back enthusiastically. Kiaran’s brown eyes glided over to meet with Brinden as he reached her.
“Do you mind if I join you?” he asked. She shrugged a shoulder, looking back to the children. He sat beside her, resting an arm across an elevated knee. “Our children seem to be acquainted,” he said.
Our children...It felt strange...to have a child. She smiled wryly, thinking how absurd it actually was, and yet, no one knew it. “Britta told me how your boy tried to stand up for her with Minda.”
“Ryker has a strong heart,” she nodded.
“I assume he got that from his you and father?” She slowly looked to him, her face straight and unreadable. “It seems safe to believe that you wouldn’t marry anyone unworthy. A lady like yourself wouldn’t settle for anything less than a gentleman.”
“You say that simply because I look nice?” she grunted. If only he could see her scars. She nearly laughed at the thought. If he could see her attitude, the hate in her heart.
“Not at all,” he replied smoothly, “I can see that your heart is good. How could you raise such a good boy without being beautiful inside as well?”
Her cheeks flushed slightly and she looked forward again. She hid her cheek with her hand, leaning her elbow against her knee. Her jaws clenched, trying to keep her attention on Ryker rather than the broad man who sat beside her.
A question itched in the back of her head and she reluctantly turned her head to him once more. He looked to her, waiting for her to say something. Finally, the words came out, “Your wife...”
“Elina?” he smiled at the name.
“She is not in the caravan?” she regretted asking, knowing what was to be said next.
“She is dead,” he let out a short, hollow laugh. “She died about four years ago.”
She grew silent; how was she to address the next question? “The rude girl said some harsh things about her.”
“It was true, though,” he sighed. “It is not something I will hide, because it is what she was. But I loved her, and I brought her out of that mess.” He rubbed a hand over his face, adding, “It is not something I like for people to know.”
“I will keep quiet,” she said.
Ryker raced Britta up the hill to them, sitting on his knees just ahead of Kiaran. he panted with a wide smile. Britta, smiling as well, stood beside her father, breathing heavily. “Is there anything you need me for?” she asked.
“No, no, Britta,” he shook his head, smiling. “I was simply chatting with Anika.”
Each time her new name was mentioned, it threw her off--It was difficult to grasp that it was her name. Ryker watched him, his smile weakening. Noticing this, Brinden stood, saying, “We should be getting ready to head off again.”
“Aye,” Kiaran replied. “Are you ready, Ry?”
“Yes,” he nodded, his voice soft.
Once Brinden and Britta were out of earshot, Ryker said, "He's talkin' a lot to you."
"You don't like that?" Kiaran replied flatly.
"Well. No," he answered.
Kiaran sighed, feeling a bit uncomfortable. She never imagined she'd rather be herself.
"Come on," she waved him after herself as she walked on.